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The English Mastiff

Of the many different kinds of dogs now established as British, not
a few have had their origin in other lands, whence specimens have
been imported into this country, in course of time to be so improved
by selection that they have come to be commonly accepted as native
breeds. Some are protected from the claim that they are indigenous
by the fact that their origin is indicated in their names. No one
would pretend that the St. Bernard or the Newfoundland, the Spaniel
or the Dalmatian, are of native breed. They are alien immigrants whom
we have naturalised, as we are naturalising the majestic Great Dane,
the decorative Borzoi, the alert Schipperke, and the frowning Chow
Chow, which are of such recent introduction that they must still be
regarded as half-acclimatised foreigners. But of the antiquity of
the Mastiff there can be no doubt. He is the oldest of our British
dogs, cultivated in these islands for so many centuries that the only
difficulty concerning his history is that of tracing his descent,
and discovering the period when he was not familiarly known.

It is possible that the Mastiff owes his origin to some remote
ancestor of alien strain. The Assyrian kings possessed a large dog
of decided Mastiff type, and used it in the hunting of lions. It is
supposed by many students that the breed was introduced into early
Britain by the adventurous Phoenician traders who, in the sixth
century B.C., voyaged to the Scilly Islands and Cornwall to barter
their own commodities in exchange for the useful metals. Knowing the
requirements of their barbarian customers, these early merchants from
Tyre and Sidon are believed to have brought some of the larger
pugnaces, which would be readily accepted by the Britons to
supplant, or improve, their courageous but undersized fighting dogs.

In Anglo-Saxon times every two villeins were required to maintain
one of these dogs for the purpose of reducing the number of wolves
and other wild animals. This would indicate that the Mastiff was
recognised as a capable hunting dog; but at a later period his hunting
instincts were not highly esteemed, and he was not regarded as a peril
to preserved game; for in the reign of Henry III. the Forest Laws,
which prohibited the keeping of all other breeds by unprivileged
persons, permitted the Mastiff to come within the precincts of a
forest, imposing, however, the condition that every such dog should
have the claws of the fore-feet removed close to the skin.

The name Mastiff was probably applied to any massively built dog.
It is not easy to trace the true breed amid the various names which
it owned. Molossus, Alan, Alaunt, Tie-dog, Bandog (or Band-dog), were
among the number. The names Tie-dog and Bandog intimate that the
Mastiff was commonly kept for guard, but many were specially trained
for baiting bears, imported lions, and bulls.

There is constant record of the Mastiff having been kept and carefully
bred for many generations in certain old English families. One of
the oldest strains of Mastiffs was that kept by Mr. Legh, of Lyme
Hall, in Cheshire. They were large, powerful dogs, and longer in
muzzle than those which we are now accustomed to see. Another old
and valuable strain was kept by the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth.
It is to these two strains that the dogs of the present day trace

Mr. Woolmore's Crown Prince was one of the most celebrated of
Mastiffs. He was a fawn dog with a Dudley nose and light eye, and
was pale in muzzle, and whilst full credit must be given to him for
having sired many good Mastiffs, he must be held responsible for the
faults in many specimens of more recent years. Unfortunately, he was
indiscriminately bred from, with the result that in a very short time
breeders found it impossible to find a Mastiff unrelated to him.

It is to be deplored that ever since his era there has been a
perceptible diminution in the number of good examples of this fine
old English breed, and that from being an admired and fashionable
dog the Mastiff has so declined in popularity that few are to be seen
either at exhibitions or in breeders' kennels. At the Crystal Palace
in 1871 there were as many as sixty-three Mastiffs on show, forming
a line of benches two hundred yards long, and not a bad one among
them; whereas at a dog show held twenty-five years later, where more
than twelve hundred dogs were entered, not a single Mastiff was

The difficulty of obtaining dogs of unblemished pedigree and
superlative type may partly account for this decline, and another
reason of unpopularity may be that the Mastiff requires so much
attention to keep him in condition that without it he is apt to become
indolent and heavy. Nevertheless, the mischief of breeding too
continuously from one strain such as that of Crown Prince has to some
extent been eradicated, and we have had many splendid Mastiffs since
his time. Special mention should be made of that grand bitch Cambrian
Princess, by Beau. She was purchased by Mrs. Willins, who, mating
her with Maximilian (a dog of her own breeding by The Emperor),
obtained Minting, who shared with Mr. Sidney Turner's Beaufort the
reputation of being unapproached for all round merit in any period.

The following description of a perfect Mastiff, taken from the Old
English Mastiff Club's Points of a Mastiff, is admirable as a
standard to which future breeders should aim to attain.

* * * * *

powerful, symmetrical and well-knit frame. A combination of grandeur
and good nature, courage and docility. GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF HEAD--In
general outline, giving a square appearance when viewed from any
point. Breadth greatly to be desired, and should be in ratio to length
of the whole head and face as 2 to 3. GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF
BODY--Massive, broad, deep, long, powerfully built, on legs wide
apart, and squarely set. Muscles sharply defined. Size a great
desideratum, if combined with quality. Height and substance important
if both points are proportionately combined. SKULL--Broad between
the ears, forehead flat, but wrinkled when attention is excited. Brows
(superciliary ridges) slightly raised. Muscles of the temples and
cheeks (temporal and masseter) well developed. Arch across the skull
of a rounded, flattened curve, with a depression up the centre of
the forehead from the medium line between the eyes, to half way up
the sagittal suture. FACE OR MUZZLE--Short, broad under the eyes,
and keeping nearly parallel in width to the end of the nose;
truncated, i.e. blunt and cut off square, thus forming a right angle
with the upper line of the face, of great depth from the point of
the nose to under jaw. Under jaw broad to the end; canine teeth
healthy, powerful, and wide apart; incisors level, or the lower
projecting beyond the upper, but never sufficiently so as to become
visible when the mouth is closed. Nose broad, with widely spreading
nostrils when viewed from the front; flat (not pointed or turned up)
in profile. Lips diverging at obtuse angles with the septum, and
slightly pendulous so as to show a square profile. Length of muzzle
to whole head and face as 1 to 3. Circumference of muzzle (measured
midway between the eyes and nose) to that of the head (measured before
the ears) as 3 to 5. EARS--Small, thin to the touch, wide apart, set
on at the highest points of the sides of the skull, so as to continue
the outline across the summit, and lying flat and close to the cheeks
when in repose. EYES--Small, wide apart, divided by at least the space
of two eyes. The stop between the eyes well marked, but not too
abrupt. Colour hazel-brown, the darker the better, showing no haw.
NECK, CHEST AND RIBS--Neck--Slightly arched, moderately long, very
muscular, and measuring in circumference about one or two inches less
than the skull before the ears. Chest--Wide, deep, and well let down
between the fore-legs. Ribs arched and well-rounded. False ribs deep
and well set back to the hips. Girth should be one-third more than
the height at the shoulder. Shoulder and Arm--Slightly sloping, heavy
and muscular. FORE-LEGS AND FEET--Legs straight, strong, and set wide
apart; bones very large. Elbows square. Pasterns upright. Feet large
and round. Toes well arched up. Nails black. BACK, LOINS AND
FLANKS--Back and loins wide and muscular; flat and very wide in a
bitch, slightly arched in a dog. Great depth of flanks. HIND-LEGS
AND FEET--Hind-quarters broad, wide, and muscular, with well developed
second thighs, hocks bent, wide apart, and quite squarely set when
standing or walking. Feet round. TAIL--Put on high up, and reaching
to the hocks, or a little below them, wide at its root and tapering
to the end, hanging straight in repose, but forming a curve, with
the end pointing upwards, but not over the back, when the dog is
excited. COAT--COLOUR--Coat short and close lying, but not too fine
over the shoulders, neck and back. Colour, apricot or silver fawn,
or dark fawn-brindle. In any case, muzzle, ears, and nose should be
black, with black round the orbits, and extending upwards between

* * * * *

Size is a quality very desirable in this breed. The height of many
dogs of olden days was from thirty-two to thirty-three inches. The
height should be obtained rather from great depth of body than length
of leg. A leggy Mastiff is very undesirable. Thirty inches may be
taken as a fair average height for dogs, and bitches somewhat less.
Many of Mr. Lukey's stood 32 inches and over; Mr. Green's Monarch
was over 33 inches, The Shah 32 inches, and Cardinal 32 inches.

The method of rearing a Mastiff has much to do with its ultimate size,
but it is perhaps needless to say that the selection of the breeding
stock has still more to do with this. It is therefore essential to
select a dog and bitch of a large strain to obtain large Mastiffs.
It is not so necessary that the dogs themselves should be so large
as that they come from a large strain. The weight of a full-grown
dog should be anything over 160 lb. Many have turned over the scale
at 180 lb. The Shah, for instance, was 182 lb. in weight, Scawfell
over 200 lb.

One of the great difficulties that breeders of Mastiffs and all other
large dogs have to contend against is in rearing the puppies; so many
bitches being clumsy and apt to kill the whelps by lying on them.
It is, therefore, always better to be provided with one or more foster
bitches. At about six weeks old a fairly good opinion may be formed
as to what the puppies will ultimately turn out in certain respects,
for, although they may change materially during growth, the good or
bad qualities which are manifest at that early age will, in all
probability, be apparent when the puppy has reached maturity. It is,
therefore, frequently easier to select the best puppy in the nest
than to do so when they are from six to nine or ten months old.

Puppies should be allowed all the liberty possible, and never be tied
up: they should be taken out for steady, gentle exercise, and not
permitted to get too fat or they become too heavy, with detrimental
results to their legs. Many Mastiff puppies are very shy and nervous,
but they will grow out of this if kindly handled, and eventually
become the best guard and protector it is possible to have.

The temper of a Mastiff should be taken into consideration by the
breeder. They are, as a rule, possessed of the best of tempers. A
savage dog with such power as the Mastiff possesses is indeed a
dangerous creature, and, therefore, some inquiries as to the temper
of a stud dog should be made before deciding to use him. In these
dogs, as in all others, it is a question of how they are treated by
the person having charge of them.

The feeding of puppies is an important matter, and should be carefully
seen to by anyone wishing to rear them successfully. If goat's milk
is procurable it is preferable to cow's milk. The price asked for
it is sometimes prohibitory, but this difficulty may be surmounted
in many cases by keeping a goat or two on the premises. Many breeders
have obtained a goat with the sole object of rearing a litter of
puppies on her milk, and have eventually discarded cow's milk
altogether, using goat's milk for household purposes instead. As soon
as the puppies will lap they should be induced to take arrowroot
prepared with milk. Oatmeal and maizemeal, about one quarter of the
latter to three quarters of the former, make a good food for puppies.
Dog biscuits and the various hound meals, soaked in good broth, may
be used with advantage, but no dogs, either large or small, can be
kept in condition for any length of time without a fair proportion
of meat of some kind. Sheep's paunches, cleaned and well boiled, mixed
with sweet stale bread, previously soaked in cold water, make an
excellent food and can hardly be excelled as a staple diet. In feeding
on horseflesh care should be taken to ascertain that the horse was
not diseased, especially if any is given uncooked.

Worms are a constant source of trouble from the earliest days of
puppy-hood, and no puppy suffering from them will thrive; every
effort, therefore, should be made to get rid of them.

With proper feeding, grooming, exercise, and cleanliness, any large
dog can be kept in good condition without resort to medicine, the
use of which should be strictly prohibited unless there is real need
for it. Mastiffs kept under such conditions are far more likely to
prove successful stud dogs and brood bitches than those to which
deleterious drugs are constantly being given.

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Previous: General History Of The Dog

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